Bootstrapping self-motivation dangled from the apron strings of a California homemaker ready to find her niche back in the late 1970s. Ovens churned out Debbi Fields’ now-iconic cookies, feeding treat-hungry millions and creating the Mrs. Fields® confectionary empire that would forever sweeten the business landscape for female entrepreneurs everywhere … and even wind up as a Harvard Business School case study. While Debbi no longer runs the corporation, she still serves as official spokesperson for the Mrs. Fields® brand, and she now devotes time to family and philanthropy. This spring, Debbi will present her inspiring story as part of her keynote speech for The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee Women’s Fund Power of the Purse® Luncheon. Today, Debbi chats with us.
When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I did know what I wanted to do, and that was to make people happy!
Were you always in the kitchen?
I spent my time in the kitchen primarily because that was the heartbeat of the house. It was the gathering place, plus our house was perfectly small — two bedrooms, one bathroom for my parents and four sisters. (My dad eventually finished the basement, and we expanded to three bedrooms.)
How long did it take you to perfect the cookie recipe that launched Mrs. Fields?
It took serious taste-testing, but my recipe evolved as I was in pursuit of making my taste buds applaud and filling every bite with quality, but without compromise.
Taking the risk to start your business must have been both thrilling and frightening. How did you guide yourself through those scary moments?
I had everything to lose. I had no money, no experience, no track record, an unproven product, no confidence and naysayers who thought I would never amount to anything. But I realized I would rather lose fighting for what I believed could be possible than spend a lifetime wondering if I could have made it work. In the end, I decided I COULD take the risk and face failure. Stepping into the abyss of the unknown was better than a lifetime of regrets.
What has surprised you most to learn about yourself along this journey?
That failure was not to be feared but embraced by creative problem-solving. Every time setbacks occurred, I became even more determined to pick myself up and find another way to succeed. I think the best part for me in the end was that I thought I was going to prove myself worthy in the eyes of others, but instead, I proved it to myself.
Your success has been inspirational to so many women. Who have been your mentors, and what advice do you cling to most?
I like to surround myself with positive people. I didn’t have a mentor, but I admired the inspiration of Zig Ziglar and Mary Kay Ash. I believe that an enthusiastic attitude filled with integrity and determination to work hard can lead you to places unimagined.
Now that you’ve made your home in Tennessee, tell us what you think about life in the South.
Originally from California, I’ve lived in Memphis for the past 16 years and recently chose to move to Nashville with my husband for a new lifestyle experience. We downsized to a two-bedroom condo in The Gulch to experience city living and yet not be too far away from our friends in Memphis. We LOVE the vitality, music, food, folks and fun of Nashville.
What event do you most looking forward to this spring?
I actually look forward to each day. I am a big believer that you have to treasure now to appreciate tomorrow.
What gets you most excited about The Power of the Purse® Luncheon coming up in April?
First and foremost, I get excited at the magic of the power of women coming together and making an abundant and positive difference in the lives and families of this community. Additionally, I am so jazzed to share my story of hope, rejection and resilience, as well as the recipe I’ve developed to overcome challenges and fear of failure to launch your dreams.
Which book(s) do you most often recommend or gift to people?
Do you have a bucket list travel destination?
I am a “CHECK IT OFF!” girl. On my list right now is bike riding with my hubby and friends anywhere there are challenging mountains and an electric-pedal-assisted bike to get me up and over any of them! Another bucket wish list item is to go to Mongolia with one of my willing daughters (I have five) and do a horseback trek with National Geographic Adventures.
What are three things you just can’t live without, other than faith, family and friends?
Tabasco, my dogs and OXYGEN!
Thank you, Debbi, for sharing your inspiring story with our readers today. Debbi will be speaking at The Community Foundation Power of the Purse luncheon on Tuesday, April 14, at the Music City Center. Click here to purchase tickets. We’ll see you there!
Thank you to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photos! See more of her work at ashleyhylbert.com.